There is, I’ve been told on many occasions, an unwritten rule when teaching English. Whilst conversation is an important part of the class, never let religion or politics creep into the chat. It’s dangerous ground. I must confess I’ve never seen this unwritten rule written down anywhere, and I’ve often had religious or political conversations in classes. Granted, there are some people who are particularly devout or politicized, and when they are present I will tend to divert the topic to safer ground. They aren’t paying me to provoke fist fights, after all.
But what to talk about? Not everyone wants to chat about football or food endlessly, unfortunately. I look for inspiration in all sort of places. And more often than not, a podcast comes to the rescue. The most recent was a two part BBC Documentaries podcast – Would You Kill The Big Guy? It’s a philosophical conundrum, based around the Trolley Problem.
The idea is simple. An out of control train is heading down the track towards five workmen, who will all be killed. You are standing next to a points lever, and with one pull can send the train down a side track. There is a man down there too though, and he will be killed. What do you do? Pull the lever, kill one man but save five? Let destiny take its course without your interference and allow five people to be killed?
The podcast plays out this idea with a number of different situations, and goes on to explore this idea in the context of real life. It’s worth listening too, regardless of whether or not you have a class to play it to. It is certainly a sure fire way to provoke interesting conversation.